Assessment of EAS and Approaches to Reach Rural Women: Examples from Malawi
Through an analysis of peer reviewed literature a number of extension approaches implemented in Malawi were identified. These are farmer participatory research approach, farmer-farmer extension, farmer groups, training, rural participatory appraisal, farmer field schools (FFS) and the T&V system (although now modified and evolved as demand driven provision of extension service). Within these approaches, the modes of service delivery range from individual and group visits, meetings, model farmer, demonstration plots, ICTs, FFS, field days and tours. Some evidence in the literature suggests that of these approaches women are considerably marginalized in group and community meetings. There was no mention in the literature of approaches specifically targeting women.
There was some information which indicates that farmers’ commitment and the ability to participate in groups activities are essential to the success of some of the approaches.
There was evidence of some of the socio-cultural constraints to effective extension delivery. Some of these are: top down approaches which overlook local knowledge, farmers needs and concerns, women farmers can’t raise their concerns in front of male extension agents (although increasing the number of female extension agents may not be the solution), women’s lack of assets and land excludes them from extension activities, much of the extension is focused on richer rather than subsistence farmers, illiteracy makes taking part difficult in extension programmers. In Malawi, extension is implemented irrespective of gender.
The peer review literature did provide some recommendations on ways forward. These include, building capacity of women, sensitize male extension workers on the needs of women farmers and implement gender sensitive policies addressing gender inequalities.
Analysis of the grey literature indicates several approaches being used; extension workers, lead farmer, peer farmer, FFS, model villages, clusters, co-operative clubs. The success of these approaches seem to lie in providing incentives for farmers to join activities, the quantity of extension time spent with farmers and the availability of material for training.
In terms of constraints, extension is delivered by men and so there is a gender imbalance. There is a need to develop and promote gender sensitive approaches to extension delivery.
The case studies clearly revealed that what works for women farmers is their ability to work in groups especially to support each other and to learn from each other. What was clear was women’s devotion and commitment to help each other. The case studies also revealed that having the support of their husbands is essential. Women farmers do prefer to work with female extension workers as this provides a conducive environment for women to be able to discuss issues. But the problem for women rests with their family situation. Women need the support of their husbands to act on extension activities.
The role of agriculture extension in the context of the women’s empowerment framework is to connect structure with agency through effective relationships and partnerships with both male and female farmers. In practice, the effectiveness of the extension system to play this role is questionable. Given that in Malawi, the agricultural extension service is dominated by male extension workers who normally work with male farmers, this systematically bars women from accessing valuable extension advice.
It can be reasonably argued that no single approach best suits extension development in all circumstances. There is a need therefore to analyze what approaches best fit in different communities since what works in one community cannot work in another. Policy issues which need to be addressed include land tenure, credit provision, input and marketing, prices and also gender roles.
It is of paramount importance to recognizes that strongly held beliefs that influence people’s attitudes and behaviors related to gender identity needs time to change and empowering women is much of a long process which will be likely achieved if men and husbands are able to understand the concept fully and able to provide support as well.